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How Do You Stay Brave When All You Want to Do is Disappear?

Advocacy isn't always easy. Rebecca Lombardo shares her struggle with staying brave when she feels the opposite.

Written by Rebecca Lombardo

How Do You Stay Brave When All You Want to Do is Disappear?

01 Rebecca Lombardo is a mental health advocate. She was diagnosed with bipolar disorder at 19 years old.

02 In this piece, she explains the anxiety she is experiencing prior to receiving a mammogram.

03 It's important to remember that while advocates empower others to remain hopeful and brave, practicing what they preach can be hard when life gets tough.

Rebecca Lombardo wrote the following letter the day before receiving a mammogram. It details the anxiety and fear she felt leading up to a stressful event, and the pressure that is placed on advocates to always appear and feel "brave." 

I’m terrified. I’m terrified of the test, I’m terrified of the results and I’m terrified of the other doctor appointments I have coming up over the next few weeks. I can’t settle down. I randomly cry over virtually nothing and have no explanation when my husband asks me why. So, every night before I finally turn off the TV and attempt another unsatisfying night of sleep, I promise myself the next day will be better. I’ll eat right, I’ll do what I need to do. When the next morning (afternoon?) comes, it’s all forgotten. I get up every single day to a raging headache that decides over the course of the day whether it’s going to become a migraine or not.

I feel like I’ve lost complete control over anything and everything. I’m embarrassed to even talk to anyone. Which is the real cruel irony here. People tell me all the time, you’re so strong and so brave! Look at everything you’ve accomplished! You’re an inspiration to me.

All I can do is say thank you. What am I supposed to say? Gee thanks, but you know…I never leave my house anymore, I hardly eat, I hardly sleep, I’m paralyzed by panic attacks, I’m lucky if I get a shower, and I cry at the drop of a hat. That hardly sounds like a strong and inspirational person.

I’ve been here so very many times before. I’m always thinking to myself why haven’t you learned how to deal with this yet?  The honest answer to that may sound like an excuse, but I swear it’s different every single time. There are different factors that lead up to it, different things that exacerbate it, different reasons it’s harder to manage the symptoms. I’ve tried nearly everything to get through it this time. I won’t lie, I do have good moments. When Joe comes home from work, and I’m finally able to talk to a human being, and we watch something funny on TV, I’m OK for a minute. Then he rolls over to go to sleep and my nightmare starts all over again. Recently, there have been some issues with family, and those issues have been a tremendous burden on my emotions. The nightmares alone are crippling.

So, how do you keep up the brave façade when all you want to do is disappear? How do you encourage and uplift others when you’re terrified to even look in the mirror? How does “Superwoman” keep flying when somebody is stepping on her cape? I don’t know. I just don’t have an answer, and that thought scares me more than all of the others. What I do know is that I’m still hanging on. I’ve come too far to let all of the stress and fears take me down. I don’t know how I’m going to do this, I really don’t. I can’t even let myself think that something might be physically wrong with me at this moment. It’s far too painful to even let it rent space in my head.

I guess I’ll keep doing what I’ve always done. It doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to be afraid of things that haven’t even happened yet, so I’ll keep telling myself that. Somehow, I’ll get through the rough patch the same way I always do. With all the grace and control of a bull elephant with a hernia. I don’t have a lot of choice. I’m not ready to let go of this tiny shred of hope. I’m not ready to let go of my husband and my life. It’s going to suck; I will not harbor any delusions that this will not suck. I guess I just needed to be honest about where I’m at. If it seems like there are times when I’m a wreck but 5 minutes later, I’m making a joke, well that’s my defense mechanism desperately making a last ditch effort to keep me sane. Thanks for listening. Wish me luck.

About the author

Rebecca Lombardo is a mental health advocate, podcast host and writer living in Michigan. She was diagnosed with bipolar disorder at age 19, and anxiety and PTSD later in life. She writes to give her feelings a voice, and help others that are struggling. Her book It's Not Your Journey can be purchased on Amazon.

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